Babka Krusinski’s Kolacki Recipe Leaves Me Asking Questions

Artur Rutkowski

8 questions and answers about traditional Polish kolacki cookies from a third-generation U.S. citizen working to keep our Polish culture alive while working on a second citizenship in Poland…

If you’ve done any research on Polish culture, you already know there are always more questions than answers. Not only is this one of the most difficult citizenships to obtain by descent, researching generations of Polish culture is tough.

I’m deciding to call my grandma’s kolacki recipe “Babka Krusinski’s Kolacki Recipe” to make it more culturally Polish but we called it “Grandma Helen’s Kolacki Recipe” growing up. News traveled quickly once Grandma Helen was making Kolacki. This was usually done around the holidays, mainly at Christmas. We knew we needed to find a ride to her house quickly because if she was baking these, we could sample them. There was nothing like fresh, warm Kolacki coming out of the oven.

Her recipe calls for pineapple but I do recall a pecan filling as well (my family swears they don’t). I know this is HER recipe because she uses the word “refrig” in it; this is what she always called the refrigerator.

Source: Artur Rutkowski

This isn’t a Polish food blog but we all know food is one of the most important parts of culture.

This is the only Polish food recipe I can find belonging to my grandmother, which means she handed it down foolishly to my mother. My mother was where recipes went to die. She was known as the “microwave queen.” I’m telling you this to show how difficult it was for our Polish culture to survive our family. From the moment my great-grandfather arrived on Ellis Island, our Polish-ness began to decline. (This will be a running theme on Aspiring Expat).

The first question: What is “Oleo?”

I haven’t seen this on store shelves and don’t remember this word being spoken since I was a small child. What is “Oleo?” I don’t recall seeing a package of it, I don’t remember my mother using it, and I couldn’t pick it out of a lineup. So what is it?

Fortunately, did some research on this already and it’s margarine! Apparently “Oleo” is in lots of grandma-era recipes!

My mom and grandma loved margarine growing up. I think they thought it was better than butter… But we know now that hydrogenated fats are a no-no food. I think that became hot, trendy diet information around the year 2000? Just going off my memory here.

The second question: What is “Coffeerich?”

I am assuming this is a brand name for a coffee creamer, like Coffee Mate. The recipe calls for sweet cream or “Coffeerich.” Sweet cream would be easy enough to buy today. So I Googled this thing I swear I’ve never heard of and it’s still a thing!

Is this a regional thing? Is this something my grandmother would have bought in Cleveland?

The third question: Can I make this in a gluten-free version?

I’m sure I can and will…through trial and error like most of my favorite foods. I’ve had to be gluten-free since 2009, so I know I just have to do whatever ingredient conversion needs to happen with flour/starches. It’s a pretty simple dough recipe to begin with. It can’t be that hard, right? (Famous last words).

But at some point, it’s not the same recipe anymore once I replace the conventional flour, Oleo, and then whatever I use for sweet cream. I’ll probably try a first run with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour, real butter, and sweet cream.

The fourth question: what is sweet cream?

Diving into the “sweet cream” issue, I quickly discovered I KNOW NOTHING. What is real anymore?

Upon further searches for “substitute for sweet cream,” I am further confused! Sweet cream isn’t cream at all! It’s another butter! So how did Grandma substitute coffee creamer for sweet cream? Because if it’s really butter…you can’t substitute cream for butter! What is the madness?

So the two main ingredients for Kolacki dough are butter and butter. Got it. The has an explanation for us.

The fifth question: What is the right way to spell Kolacki?

One Google search of “Kolacki” brings up tons of results for…”Kolacky.” Plus, a ton of “cream cheese Kolacky,” which I’ve never heard of. Another spelling comes up when I look for a cutter, now we have “Kolaczki.” We will just go with Grandma’s spelling and wonder

The sixth question: When did the pineapple filling come in?

Poland is hardly in the tropics, so this pineapple version had to have come after my family’s arrival in America and discovery of canned pineapple.

Finally, some options on Kolacki recipes:

Here’s one from The Spruce Eats that calls for butter and cream cheese (rather than oleo and sweet cream). This may be a better combination to make the dough than…butter and butter.

The seventh question: What is the correct way to spell and pronounce this Polish cookie?

The Spruce Eats also has a traditional Polish recipe — but the spelling… In Polish, this would be pronounced “Kowatzki.” My family pronounced it “Koh-lawtch-key.”

Yes, growing up I spelled it “Babka,” but I think the proper Polish way is babcia. I am still learning my Polish!

Obviously, I’ll keep researching the roots of the delcious Polish Kolacki — and I’ll keep spelling it the way my Babka spelled it as a way to honor her. She was the hard-working grandmother who made us our Polish food for holidays and special occasions. She raised three kids, was a fun grandma to us granddaughters, and worked in the 1980s at Motorola. She worked hard and played hard. I think her cookie recipe is a testament to that.

Besides, you realize I’m going to make her recipe and blog about it! Ok, to be honest, I have made it once and it was not quite a total disaster, but it was rough. De-glutening any traditional recipe is a lot of work. Since I started on this project, I’ve gone keto.

The eight question is…Can I make keto Kolacki…

The answer is yes! But will they be any good? I found a recipe for some online… To be continued…

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